This is an essay on integrity and ethics. Integrity is the consistent adherence to moral values, principles and ethics. Ethics in this context refers to a set of rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a given profession. This essay will include a detailed report which critically analyzes ethical behavior in the UK financial services industry in general. It will also explain how an increased focus on integrity and ethics could make a positive contribution in restoring public confidence in the organization. The essay will also link the question with the following topics: International business, integrity and ethics, strategic risk management and continuity planning, marketing financial services, contemporary themes in human resource management, the organization and structure of banking and the financial services industry, and strategic decision making and the future in a global market place. The essay will cover the question in a coherent and logical manner.
The offering of financial services is an important part of industry that affects the lives of most people. Hence, the industry needs to provide the necessary expertise under the realms of integrity. But the public has always maintained the perception that most financial firms are interested in making money at the expense of all other considerations. We therefore aim at considering how the public perception might change, so that the sector continues to provide the necessary expertise with an integrity that fully responds to modern society's expectations and engenders mutual trust. Though our principles are of high standards and are based on ethical values, it has been proved that these ethical values are not fully understood or applied consistently by all in the financial industry. To this effect we have to establish a clear and explicit shared understanding about the meaning of practical integrity.
There are various theories in the literature which include; ethical egoism, act utilitarianism, and rule utilitarianism. In the case of ethical egoism, individuals (employees or management) regard an act to be moral or immoral depending on its likelihood to achieve personal objectives. In this context, an act is ethical for planners only if the results of the act or behavior are more beneficial to them than those of the clients. For the ethical egoist, they aim at satisfying self interests to the expense of client's interests and ethical standards/behavior. In the case of utilitarianism, Individuals regard an act as ethical or not by the consequences of that act or by endeavoring to create the greatest overall good for those in question. They equally maintain that inherently pleasure is good and pain is bad. They focus on 'the principle of greatest happiness' for those involved in a decision or act. This theory can result in leadership decisions that will violate employee's rights in order top produce this outcome, thus justifying unethical behaviors in organizations (Avolio, Bruce 2004, Pg 1).Regardless of the legal or moral standard requirements, one of the biggest ethical dilemmas planners face is choosing a method of compensation for its clients. The methods of compensation are often interchangeable, since each can charge either fees or commissions they deem fit for their services as long as they have a license to do so. However, this flexibility may be morally challenging for planners who must choose one method of compensation over the other. Some fail in ethics and integrity while discharging this duty (Mark, Cussen, and CMFC 2010, Pg 1).
Cases of corporate scandal have underscored the importance of understanding ethical behaviors. The pressure of short-term gain encourages undesirable behavior and hence the values and actions of senior management influence employee ethical levels. A faulty reward system can propagate unethical behavior in that a self-interested agent would choose a course of action that contains the highest returns to the disadvantage of ethics and integrity (Federwisch 2010, pg 1). On the other hand, some individuals behave unethically because they think it is worth the risk. They deliberately do it to eliminate a short-term problem. Others might do something which is deemed unethical, but which seems acceptable from their case. There is a general perception in relation to those firms that behave unacceptably always make things difficult for those who have displayed higher ethical standards. The collapse of Enron and World com further brought ethical behavior into public scrutiny. Their fall caused thousands of Enron and World com employees to lose all of their retirement savings. This was thought to have been caused by the failure to educate those employees about the importance of diversification of ethical standards.
As earlier reported, it has not been easy to consistently follow the set ethical standards. For example honest financial planners are facing real dilemmas when trying to do the right thing for their financial clients. They have to consider the traditional approach or buy the diverse modern products available for the clients. They are also bent to pleasing the client to the disadvantage of the ethical standards. To counter this, the certified financial planner of Standards has issued a substantial revision and upgrade of the ethical requirements that its certificants must adhere to. According to the revised standards, all financial planning services must be accorded the care of a true fiduciary, as opposed to just acting in the client's best interest. This means that the interests of the certified financial planner are put ahead of clients best interest at all times and under all situations. This will help in the compliance to the ethical standards with out bias. This culminates to getting the client to do the right thing for the right reason while at the same time helping in keeping to the industry ethical standards. It has been proved that the correct application of ethics in modern financial planning is having the client understand exactly what they are doing and why. This should be done with full knowledge of the costs and risks involved. An ethical transaction occurs when a client fully understands the ramifications of the advisor's recommendations and is willing to forge ahead with the deal following all pertinent laws and regulations. The boundaries between sales and advice in the financial industry are also becoming increasingly wide. This is so because many clients will base their financial decisions on emotions and wants rather than what their planner advises.
Worth noting is the fact that there is no central ethical resource available for the diverse financial planners. The consistent association to a financial industry with behaviors perceived to be unethical can be very damaging for other parties and the bad impact can not be diluted easily. The increasing pressure from the government and the consumers to put something back in terms of policies and financial stand points put financial ethical standards at risk. It is further clarified that individuals carrying leadership roles should demonstrate a good standard of ethical behavior. The bottom line is that they will be expected to act in the interests of their client, avoid consumer detriment and take responsibility for their own level of competence and ethical behavior and profound competence. The proposals seek to increase standards of professionalism across the industry, complementing the rules that are already in place for investment advice. Consumers have come to understand and enjoy the ethical stance without much effort. This has strengthened public confidence to the industry with increasing trust from the consumers. Good ethical standards and ethical behavior can generate loyalty internally. The promulgation of ethical stance throughout the business will significantly raise the staff awareness of ethical issues which in turn will help in early identification of problems. This will save the company's reputation and costs. However it is notably seen that a positive ethical stance is instigated by a genuine desire by the employer to promote higher ethical standards. Again, personal ethical behavior comes way ahead of the company's ethical standards and lack of the earlier justifies eminent absence of the latter. Poor ethical standards have adverse effects. They pose risks to consumer protection, lower market confidence, increase the scope for financial crime and negative public awareness. Alternatively, benefits derived from adherence are like: Market confidence from the consumer protection; from the improved ethical standards, a better relationship between firms and consumers will be reflected ; Financial Crime will be reduced by developing individual responsibility and involvement by all- it will not be easy to launder money in the UK; Public Awareness and Confidence will also be improved through the higher ethical business and individual standards that promote the integrity of a company. Specifically, it will enhance public perceptions; trust in the firms and individuals concerned (Financial Services Authority 2002, Pg 8)
Despite the above analysis, it is factual that increased focus on integrity and ethics could make a positive contribution in restoring public confidence in the organization. This is first through ethical leadership. The consistency between leaders' true ethical intention and behavior link the leaders' ethical behaviors and employee outcomes. In an addition, leaders are obliged to set moral examples for organizational members and to determine those organizational activities which may be disadvantaging to the values of society in general. Leaders are deemed to exhibit ethical behaviors when they are doing what is morally just, right, and good, and when they follow it up with help to improve employee's moral awareness and moral self-actualization. This will affirm the consistent adherence to ethics and integrity and hence restore public confidence in the organization (Avolio, Bruce 2004, Pg 1).
The organization can achieve this by hiring leaders with strong ethical values. This is possible through carrying out of pre-employment selection practices which foster the employment of ethical leaders by assessing integrity, moral standards, and concern for others by using integrity tests, or structured ethical interviews. The organization should also offer training to current management, supervisors, and employees on matters relating to ethics and integrity. By training management on communicating the importance of ethics, reinforcing ethical behavior, and modeling ethical behavior, ethical leadership may be passed from the management to the employees. The organization should at same time reward helpful behaviors and/ punish unethical behaviors. When leaders establish that positive behaviors are valued and unethical behaviors are not, there is a possibility that subordinates will exhibit, or withhold, such behaviors. This will restore public confidence in the organization. The organization should create a propensity for the exchange of good behaviors (DeGarmo Group 2009, Pg 1). Individuals who portray beneficial behaviors for others pave the way for positive exchanges and improved ethical standards in the organization.
Focus on integrity and ethics will improve the goodwill of the organization at the local level and international level where applicable. This will attract international partners and customers and hence fostering international business. However it has been hindered by unethical behaviors (Witiger 2010, pg1). It also aids in strategic risk management and planning in that the employees and management are linked by the ethics and integrity to become fully involved in the affairs of the organization. Marketing and financial services are intertwined with focus to ethics and integrity in that the marketers must posses' ethical behaviors to attract and maintain customers in the competitive financial world. Marketing is equally a moral activity (Willey 2008, Pg 1) that demands ethics. Focus on ethics and integrity is one of the principles of human resource management. The managers inform the employees on the ethical and integrity requirements of the organization through the code of ethics (National association of social workers 2010, Pg 1) .Unethical behavior is punished by the human resource managers while integrity and ethical behaviors are rewarded relatively. At the same time, human resource managers consider ethics and integrity in hiring and firing of employees. The organization and structure of an organization highly depends on ethics and integrity. With the leaders assuming ethical leadership, the structure must be in a way to pass on these ethical standards from the leaders to the employees and to the customers for the sake of maintaining the organizations ethical standards. Decision making in an organization lies with the management and where ethics and integrity are exercised, all are consulted via the relationship in place and conscious decisions are made (Markkkula 2010, Pg1). The future of an organization in the global marker is highly dependant on its goodwill which includes public confidence and trust. These principles come as a result of the presence of ethics and integrity. Lack of them affirms the organizations inexistence in the future.
Integrity and ethics form a very significant part of an organization's success. Although regulatory bodies have set the ethical standards to be adhered by financial service industries, planners and clients have been proved to consistently violate these standards for their own good. There are many benefits derived from the adherence of ethical standards and integrity. Alternatively, there are equally many unethical behaviors in the financial industry that have yielded adverse effects to these organizations. However there are equally many methods that can be adapted by the financial industries to correct and prevent relapse of these negative effects.